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More Colleges Finding Appeal to Early Action


It seems like more and more colleges are catching on to the benefit of offering an Early Action (EA) program alongside their existing Early Decision (ED) choice. It used to be that EA programs were reserved for the big public schools without ED, like Michigan, Wisconsin, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others, as a way to get a start on the application reading process. Colleges like this get a lot of applications, and gaining a two-month or more head-start on the application review, by offering a November 1st EA deadline in addition to the January 1st Regular Decision (RD) deadline made a lot of sense for them. Having a handful of schools that accepted applications early also made sense for students who could spread out their work and ideally get a decision more quickly without the binding nature of ED.

More and more private colleges are offering an Early Action choice alongside their Early Decision choice.

Now, more and more private colleges are offering an Early Action choice alongside their Early Decision choice. This includes schools like Northeastern, Tulane, Villanova, and the University of Miami. On the surface, this doesn’t make much sense for the college because they have a mechanism for accepting early applications via ED. But colleges have seen some real benefits to offering EA in addition to ED, including an increase in overall applications.

For one, there is the perception among students that applying EA to one of these schools is a “freebie” relative to their ED choice. Students figure they can apply ED to a school like Northwestern and also apply EA to Northeastern without penalty. Especially for high-achieving kids who might see Northwestern as a reach and Northeastern as attainable, this feels like a good strategy. But what often happens is that EA schools like Northeastern defer a lot of kids with even better-than-average stats. Why? Because it is frequently clear that the demonstrated interest in Northeastern is not there. Why not apply to Northeastern, which does not even have an extra supplemental essay? Because unless you’ve shown NE a lot of love prior to the application date, you will seem like you are just taking advantage of that freebie application and that the school is not your first choice. After all, if Northeastern were your first choice, then you would have applied ED and not EA. So, one big benefit to the colleges of offering EA is that they get a lot more applications from students who are ready to apply to college by November 1st, and they are not competing with all of the other ED and RD-only schools. All of this while also driving their admissions rate down.

Another benefit private colleges get from their EA programs is that they can identify students they want and try to move them over from EA to EDII. Tulane is particularly aggressive about this, sending a deluge of emails to deferred EA applicants in an attempt to move them over to the EDII round. To students, this can be particularly appealing if you’ve not gotten into your EDI choice school. And as word gets out that even most of the RD admits originally applied in the EA round, it puts more pressure on students to apply at least EA to these colleges. It was reported last year that Tulane accepted only a few hundred students in their RD round.

Given these benefits, we would not be surprised to see more private colleges add an EA round to their existing ED application choice. There is little downside to colleges if you want more applications and a longer relationship with potential applicants.

Tim Brennan
February 27, 2023
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